Penalty for Late Delivery

July 26, 2012

The first of what will no doubt be a kazillion lawsuits has been filed in Colorado over the Aurora theater murders.

This one, by someone named Torrence Brown, claims emotional distress for having survived the massacre unscathed.  Mr. Brown was so devastated by the attack that he was ready bright and early the first business morning after the attack with a suit against the theater, the shooter’s doctors (without even knowing whether he had any), and of course Warner Bros., the studio that produced Batman, on account of all the violence in it–violence he was so offended by that he attended a midnight screening.  Clearly, if a judge doesn’t throw out this case first, the jurors will send him home empty-handed.

But this story, if true,could lead to a rash of negligence suits so big and so winnable that the winning plaintiffs might just find themselves with the deed to Colorado.

Citing unidentified law enforcement sources, multiple news outlets reported Wednesday that mass-shooting suspect  James E. Holmes  mailed a notebook before Friday’s early-morning theater massacre to the University of Colorado’s medical campus, where he had been a doctoral neuroscience student.

The university said it received a suspicious package Monday, three days after the assault in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead and 58 injured. The package was “immediately investigated and turned over to authorities within hours of delivery,” a university statement said. The school did not comment on the contents, citing a court-imposed gag order.

The notebook contained drawings of stick figures being shot and a written description of a coming attack, and was addressed to a psychiatrist at the university, according to Fox News, which first reported the mailing. The Wall Street Journal also reported that a source said the notebook contained drawings of a massacre….

The spiral-bound notebook was “full of details about how he was going to kill people,” an unidentified law enforcement source told Fox. “There were drawings of what he was going to do in it, drawings and illustrations of the massacre.”

This report adds that the package lay undelivered in the university mail room since July 12.  The university is a state institution.  Imagine if a timely delivery of the notebooks to the psychiatrist had been made.  The psychiatrist would’ve been obliged by law to contact the police, who likely would’ve sent someone to the shooter’s home–or gotten a search warrant–and discovered the mini arsenal long before the fateful night.

Now consider that the shooter himself might claim–with some plausibility–that the Dr. Jekyll side of him sent the notebook as a desperate cry for help, hoping that the psychiatrist would contact him or send police to stop Mr. Hyde.  “Help me, please, before he kills!”

What might have been had the package not sat there for a week, unopened, is the stuff of a legal drama eclipsed only by the human tragedy.  Has there ever been a trillion-dollar damages award?

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